Short-Cycle School Improvement Planning as a Lever to Launch School Turnaround: A Descriptive Analysis of Plans
by Bryan A. VanGronigen & Coby Meyers - 2020
Background: School improvement planning is a common school leadership practice built on assumptions that schools increase organizational performance if rational yearly plans are developed and then enacted with fidelity. A quality school improvement plan (SIP) should position subsequent critical leadership and instructional moves in a more holistic change initiative. Although multiple studies suggest that positive relationships exist between SIP quality and student achievement outcomes, all studies of SIPs have focused on the traditional, yearlong approach to school improvement planning. An alternative approach operates on shorter cycles of approximately one semester, a model that could be beneficial for low-performing schools engaged in turnaround efforts in which altering goals and strategies might need to occur more frequently to be situationally responsive.
Purpose: In this study, we analyze short-cycle SIPs from three cohorts of low-performing schools participating in a university-based program focused on improving systems leadership to rapidly increase school performance and student achievement. We determine overall SIP quality and whether it changes over time. Furthermore, we analyze plan quality by planning domain (e.g., vision, action steps) over time. To our knowledge, this is the first study that analyzes short-cycle SIPs specifically.
Research Design: We employ a conventional content analysis approach to examine 389 short-cycle SIPs submitted by 136 schools across three cohorts of school principals attempting to lead school turnaround. To analyze the short-cycle SIPs, we developed a rubric that includes 12 planning domains and is based on previous analyses of SIPs since 2001. Our descriptive analyses of short-cycle SIPs show easily identifiable patterns.
Conclusions: Overall plan quality is weak. Although most planning domains and overall plan quality scores improve over time, their increases are mostly nominal. Results suggest that principals attempting to lead turnaround efforts do not often set compelling turnaround visions or engage in deep root cause analysis to identify meaningful focus areas. Although we believe there is great potential in short-cycle SIPs, results further suggest that principals must be strategic in what they prioritize, especially in low-performing schools facing myriad challenges. Last, service providers, school districts, and state education agencies would be wise to recognize that principals will typically develop SIPs that are directly responsive to templates and/or policies.
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